Inter 0-0 Roma: interesting in theory, but not on the pitch
Two sides lacking confidence contested a fairly tame 0-0 draw in Milan.
Gian Piero Gasperini reverted to a three-man defence, but went with 3-4-1-2, as expected, rather than his favoured 3-4-3. Joel Obi came in on the left, and Wesley Sneijder was the number ten.
Luis Enrique stuck with his preferred 4-3-3, but made a surprise decision to start two midfielders at full-back – Rodrigo Taddei on the left, Simone Perrotta on the right.
Roma generally dominated possession but lacked ideas in the final third, whilst Inter had decent moments but had no cohesion upfront. The game fitted the 0-0 scoreline.
Formations and theory
The most interesting thing about this game was pre-match consideration of how the sides would play. Gasperini’s 3-4-3 was terrible at Palermo, and on the basis of that, another game with the same formation would have been foolish – you can’t play the same way and expect different results immediately. With Sneijder impressive when he came on against Palermo, moving into a deep, central position rather than staying in his wide-left starting role – plus Diego Forlan not comfortable out wide – it made sense to switch to 3-4-1-2.
That was only on the basis of last week’s display, though. It changes completely when you consider the way Roma were playing – with two players completely out of position at full-back. Leave them free, and they’re comfortable – no major defensive work, happy to move forward and influence the game in possession. Occupy them with a tricky opponent, and they would have looked extremely uncomfortable – and for that reason, it may have been worth Gasperini sticking with the 3-4-3, putting Sneijder up against Perrotta and Forlan against Taddei. He would have been crucified had it failed for being wedded to a system which doesn’t suit his players, but it was arguably the right way to go considering the extremely unusual situation at full-back.
In the end, Gasperini went 3-4-1-2. The Roma full-backs were free to push on up the pitch, and in a move borrowed from his old club Barcelona, Enrique told Daniele De Rossi to drop into the back, turning Roma into a back three, and a 3-4-3. David Pizarro and Sneijder broadly picked up each other in the middle (which did more harm than good to the game as a spectacle) whilst Javier Zanetti nullified Miralem Pjanic.
Roma had more of the ball – so why were they unable to open up a defence which has looked so dodgy? Totti, arguably, was not the right player for this situation as the central forward. He wanted to come deeper and deeper – maybe understandable given the lack of creativity in midfield – but Roma didn’t have the cohesion to put together the main move this system is meant to produce: Totti coming deep and the wide players moving into goalscoring positions. In the absence of such an understanding, it might have been better to have played three more direct forwards, take advantage of the 3 v 3 situation in that zone, and exploit the lack of pace in Inter’s backline. Totti played a couple of decent passes, but Inter were more than happy to let him come into a zone patrolled by Esteban Cambiasso, and let Roma play in front of them. A couple of bright moves came from Fabio Borini outpacing Andrea Rannochia, but there wasn’t enough of that.
Inter’s brightest moments came when Mauro Zarate came on for Diego Milito – he often played up against Taddei, who immediately looked uncomfortable against such a tricky opponent. Zarate had a couple of attempts that went narrowly wide. Gasperini’s mentality was summed up by his late substitution – forward Forlan off, midfielder Muntari on. He was happy with a point. Maybe Enrique was too – his changes were incremental.
Was this a tactical battle? It didn’t feel like it. It was more like two under-pressure managers focusing upon getting their new charges used to a new way of playing. Neither tried to exploit the particular weaknesses of their opponent, neither looked like scoring. There is still plenty of work to do for both.